By Paul Goldfinger, MD
The first Surgeon General’s Report about the risks of smoking appeared in 1964. Since then many other updates have been issued. At first, the risks seemed to only be that of the smoker. In fact, there were experts who said that only cigarette smokers were at risk because they inhaled. Pipe and cigar smoking were not considered risky.
But, later, second-hand smoke indoors was also found to have health risks including heart and lung disease and cancer, particularly of the lungs, but possibly of the breast as well. Indoor smoking was also found to be harmful for pregnant mothers. As a result, many towns and cities in the US and around the world banned smoking in bars, restaurants, workplaces and other inside locations. Neptune Township has had such a ban for some time.
About six years ago, evidence began to emerge that showed a risk from inhaling second-hand smoke outdoors. Clear data from Stanford University showed high amounts of toxic substances in the air breathed by those who were in close proximity to smokers. But once you get more than six feet away, the exposure decreases substantially. The Surgeon General has said that even minimal exposure can be harmful. According to that, there should be zero tolerance for any tobacco smoke in public places.
In 2011, New York City banned smoking in parks and beaches. The laws regarding second hand smoke vary from place to place. Sometimes the bans include bus stops, outdoor restaurants, doorways, sidewalks and construction sites. But not all public heath experts agree with such laws. (See NY Times link below dated 2011.)
Recently a group of Neptune citizens got together to form an organization called “Move and Improve Neptune.” They received a CDC grant and they focused on improving health choices in the community. They were particularly interested in tobacco. So they set about lobbying the Township Committee to create tobacco-free public spaces. Schoolchildren made presentations to the Committee. One student told the committee that smoking is associated with increased alcohol use, illegal drug use, and early death. They also cited the litter and cigarette butts that spoil the cleanliness of our parks. Evidently no public health experts spoke to the Committee.
A citizen poll was taken which revealed that 86% were supportive of the proposed ordinance. The ordinance #13-06 was passed in April, 2013. It was announced in the Coaster, and signs were placed in all the relevant locations. The law refers to all parks, playgrounds and play fields that are owned by the Township. The rules do not apply to Ocean Grove property owned by the Camp Meeting Association including the beach and the boardwalk.
We spoke to a Neptune PD spokesman who said that they would watch for offenders, but that no summons would be issued unless someone is a repeat smoker in all the wrong places. According to Dawn Thompson, Recreation Director for Neptune Township, there are other towns in New Jersey who have such laws, but, so far, not one ticket has been issued. This program is viewed as an opportunity to educate the public. Ms. Thompson said that it empowers citizens to approach a smoker and point out that smoking is illegal in that location. Mayor Houghtaling agreed that this law could help improve the health of Neptune citizens, and the ordinance passed unanimously .